Friday, March 11, 2005

Outlawing the obvious 

"U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Thursday for a world treaty on terrorism that would outlaw attacks targeting civilians and establish a framework for a collective response to the global threat.

"Although the United Nations and its agencies already have 12 treaties covering terrorism, a universal definition has been elusive.

"World leaders and officials have had deep disagreements over whether resisters to alleged oppression for example, Palestinian suicide bombers attacking Israeli targets are terrorists or freedom fighters; and whether states that use what they think is legitimate force might be branded terrorists.

"But Annan was categorical in his address Thursday to terrorism experts and world leaders from 50 countries, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

" 'The right to resist occupation … cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians,' Annan told the conference on democracy, terrorism and security. The United Nations, he said, must proclaim 'loud and clear that terrorism can never be accepted or justified in any cause whatsoever'."
Good on Annan for stating the obvious; after all, all decent individuals around the world know that flying passenger planes into skyscrapers or detonating oneself outside a pizza parlor or a mosque is a no-no. But the Secretary-General might have more trouble convincing everyone that this is the case.

In the end, this exercise will rise or fall not on the strength of its sentiment - the United Nations has produced volume after volume of well-meaning treaties to solve all the world's problems - but the willingness of the member states to enforce it. Left to their own devices, the international community is more than reluctant to use force under any circumstances. Good luck to the UN with its 13th (lucky number?) international convention on terrorism, but if I were a gambling man I would bet that the first time this treaty is invoked it will be Darfur all over again, when an expert commission concluded that what's happening over there is not quite a genocide, therefore the UN is not technically obliged to take a strong action to stop it.


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